Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Damsel In Distress - P. G. Wodehouse

 My goodness it has been a month since my last post! Never fear I haven't run away! In that time the amount of reading I have done has dropped off remarkably as other things have encroached on my time. In other words the real world crept in with its inherent worries, trials, and tribulations. Suffice to say when that happens I find sitting down and reading difficult as the mind is too busy and won't stop for me to concentrate on words in a book. But I did all the same manage to read six books in September. But compare that to the twenty five I read the month before!

 I'm now almost at the end of one of the few non-fiction works I have actually read this year. It is Cobra II - Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor. It details the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is fascinating reading as it starts with the political reasons for the invasion, then goes through the fighting to the post war insurrection within Iraq. It is certainly topical considering the results of the invasion are still being felt. So if recent history is of interest or you want to understand it all then this is a fine book to start with. Be warned though it may be a bit too detailed for the average reader.

 But to P. G. Wodehouse and his lovely, charming early comedy A Damsel in Distress!! Wodehouse is probably best known to his many fans, and those with a passing interest, for his Jeeves and Wooster novels. I know of them even though I have never read one. In fact this is the very first Wodehouse novel I have ever read. I was perusing the W's in the library when I came to Wodehouse. So a bit like P. Somerset Maugham's novel The Painted Veil that I read several months ago I thought it time to discover this famous author.

 Over a writing career that spanned more than fifty years Wodehouse wrote in excess of one hundred novels. I was surprised by this because my library had less than ten on its shelves. When I decided to read one of his novels I wanted to find one of his earlier works. But for some reason none of the books I looked at had a list of works, let alone a proper chronology. So I just picked out A Damsel in Distress because it was brand new ( !! ) and just looked like a lovely book. It certainly turned out to be! In the process after a bit of Internet searching I found out that the novel was in fact one of Wodehouse's earliest novels.

P. G. Wodehouse aged 23.
 Pelham Grenville Wodehouse ( 1881 - 1975 ) was born in Hong Kong to British parents. His family returned to England where he spent several years away from home at a boarding school. He was a passionate writer from an early age but was unable to pursue his university education due to family's tight budgetary constraints. Instead he was forced to take a job as a banker which, suffice to say, he did not enjoy. He left the position to write features for British newspapers where he found success as a columnist. He moved to New York and began writing for American magazines where his talents as a writer lead him into the entertainment industry. It was here he wrote scripts, screenplays, and lyrics for some of Broadway and Hollywood's most famous shows and films.

 As he began to publish his first short stories and novels he settled into a full time career as an author. He moved to France where during WW 2 he was arrested by the Germans and spent a year in an internment camp. After the wear he returned to New York where he remained for the rest of his life. His novels are beloved for their entertaining plots and characters. They were stories written in a light hearted manner that centered around the trials and tribulations of the well to do. This is very much seen in A Damsel in Distress in which Wodehouse reflects his birth, upbringing and early writing career in  English upper-class society.

 In A Damsel in Distress comedy reigns as the Earl of Marshmoreton's sister's plans for marrying off her relatives to landed gentry go awry. In the process a zany madcap adventure of comic twists and turns follow. The plot revolves around two main protagonists, Maud Marsh, daughter of the Earl, and American George Bevan, a music writer of some ability and fame. Bevan is minding his own business when in London Maud jumps into his taxi begging for his help. Recovering from his shock the somewhat lonely Bevan hears Maud's plight in regards to her pushy aunt's adamant way that she marry her step-cousin Reggie. Maud is however in love with another man who is the reason she had quietly sneaked off to London to see. George is moved by her tale and taken by her looks, offers to aid the hapless damsel of the title.

 But just as it seems he has found his true love she gives him the slip. She returns home where she faces the wrath of her aunt and meddlesome, repugnant, snobby, over weight brother. George meanwhile is unable to forget her. He finds out where she lives and decides to move near Belpher Castle.  He hopes for an  ' inadvertent ' meeting in which to spark a relationship. What follows is a case of mistaken identities, hilarious run ins with highly strung relatives, and all manner of shenanigans involving the Estate's servants and staff, before the end of this charming, wacky, romantic comedy.

 This novel is a good example of how Wodehouse melded into the situations, characters, etc, his own upbringing. For instance as stated Wodehouse wrote scripts and screenplays etc in America. In the novel the character of American George Bevan is almost Wodehouse himself. Also Wodehouse's upper class upbringing, and the trappings of too much wealth of the English gentry, is seen in the characters of the Earl,  and particularly his snooty sister. She is full of stuffy class perceptions and Wodehouse is subtly contemptuous of her. But what I liked was the lives of the servants. It is funny to read as they know all that is going on in the castle, especially in regards as to what their employers consider private information regarding themselves.

 It really is a wonderful, quietly charming look into upper class life in post WW 1 England. Wodehouse though cleverly shows both sides to those with the money. We have on the one hand the snobbery of  Marshmoreton's sister, who meddles in her families affairs, and in contrast Marshmoreton himself who is a quiet man who wants nothing else to be left in peace and work in his rose garden. My favorite character though is Reggie. He is just so quintessentially post war English in his speech. He is quietly eccentric as he goes about  ' I say ', ' what ho ', ' spiffing ', 'bravo'!! It is wonderful stuff and so subtle in its humour.

 Yes I really enjoyed this novel and found it a charming introduction to the works of P. G. Wodehouse. I shall certainly be reading many more of his prodigious novels whenever I get the chance. Unfortunately as I haven't read anything else of Wodehouse's I can't compare this against his other works. Suffice to say it is a lovely novel full of fun, charm, and quiet social commentary, that it is a well worth while novel. For me it is one of the most enjoyable novels I have read this year. If you like quintessential English novels, which is what Wodehouse wrote, then this is for you.




3 comments:

  1. :D I just finished reading most of that book for the second time yesterday :D I started at the cab scene and worked my way on from there. Mr. Wodehouse is an excellent writer (at least he did a good job with Damsel) and I just want to say thank you for pointing out the awesomeness that is Wodehouse and his characters! :D

    God bless you and yours!

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  2. Thanks for the comment!! Yes he was certainly a fine writer and this is a wonderful novel. I will be reading more of his novels asap!

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  3. his writing career actually spanned more than seventy years. his first books were school stories published in the early 1900s, and his first great comic creation was Psmith

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